How many of your employees does it take to screw in a light bulb? Possibly two—and it’s not because they’re incompetent. Introducing job sharing: a means of providing a more flexible workplace that can accommodate any number of employee needs—from working fewer hours to attend to family, to retaining high performers who might be getting ready to retire but who aren’t 100 percent ready to jump ship entirely. In an era when skilled tech talent is placing an increasing amount of value on flexible work arrangements, this is one model that employers may consider.

Cali Yost

While job sharing is far from a new concept, it’s not a workplace model that’s gained a lot of traction, according to Cali Williams Yost, founder and CEO of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, a consultancy based in Madison, NJ. Yost, who is also author of Work/Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You and Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, believes this is because a lot of work flexibility initiatives, like job sharing, are more about formality and less about culture. “Flexibility really has been approached in most organizations as a policy you implement, and really it’s got to be a way of working, where individuals, teams, and leaders are thinking and behaving in certain ways that they’ve been trained in,” she said. “When you approach it that way, then all of a sudden, everybody knows their roles, everything’s clear, the coordination is there.” In other words, she said, it’s a business strategy.

The most common job-sharing model is similar to the partnerships we see police officers engaging in on our favorite cop shows: two individuals pair up to do the same job. Applied to corporate America, however, it incorporates an added nuance: each party works part-time (and alternating) hours … say, 20 to 25 hours a week (with or without benefits, depending on how this model is negotiated and structured). The main goal behind such an arrangement, Yost said, is to attract and retain two people who can’t work full-time. “That is valuable,” she said. “People will be willing to make less money if they are able to reduce their schedule to fit their work and life together.”

What’s tricky about job sharing is that the two employees fulfilling the position in question must be, as Yost put it, highly intertwined: “It is a seamless hand-off between two people with similar levels of competency in a particular job,” she explained. For example, pairing a senior, experienced professional with a junior-level employee who is relatively new to the field is not a model for success. “It’s not going to work. The experienced person will end up working full time, it’s what’s going to happen. You really have to have a matching of peers.”

Cliff Ennico

Cliff Ennico, a contracts lawyer based in Fairfield, CT, and author of Small Business Survival Guide, underlined that it’s important for both employers and employees to remember job sharing is an employment arrangement—the employees involved are not independent contractors. “[The employees] have responsibilities—there are certain things they cannot do, [such as] divulge confidential information,” he said. He brought this up because as part-time employees, job sharers could, theoretically, have the time to work for another AV integration firm, also on a part-time basis. What happens if, in that role, they’re involved in a project with a client who is a direct competitor to one of your clients? “You may have signed a contract with your client saying that you will not engage in competing activity. If your part-time employee is working with a competing company through another employer, they’ve now caused you to breach your agreement with your client, which will lead to legal trouble.”

To prevent this from happening, Ennico advises companies to include a conflicts of interest clause in their job-sharing contracts. “Really drill it into people’s heads: if you find yourself in any of the following situations, we need to know, because it could cause us to breach a contract we have with our clients,” he said.

One area where AV integrators should excel is in providing the tools to enable the two “job sharers” to communicate. A job-sharing arrangement is a partnership, after all, one that is—or at least should be—highly collaborative. “There have to be systems in place that allow that communication to happen easily,” Yost said. She also noted that even when these employees are technically off the clock, they should be available if their partner needs more information. “You have to be willing to do that, and there have to be systems in place where those answers can be gotten quickly and easily.”

This is an important point to cover before deploying a job-sharing model, Yost underlined. If the job-sharing agreement states that the employee will work 20 hours a week, how is their time “on call” accounted for? Yost said that some organizations opt to structure these arrangements in this way: the job-sharing arrangement encompasses 25 hours a week—20 hours on site, and then an additional five for those instances when they are contacted, and expected to respond, when they’re not at work.

Lisa Horn

While offering flexible work arrangements is one way for employers to address recruitment and retention challenges, Lisa Horn, director of congressional affairs and leader of the Workplace Flexibility Initiative at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in Alexandria VA, conceded that this is something that employers should apply with caution. “Maybe flexible hours aren’t right for all employees, and may not be right for the particular business,” she said. “Every organization has to do that examination to determine what flexibility offerings make sense. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all policy or strategy. In order to be successful and an effective strategy, it’s got to work for both the business and the employee.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

Exempt or Not Exempt?
One issue employers need to address is whether or not the employees in the job-sharing arrangement will be compensated on an hourly basis. “If it’s a non-exempt, hourly [worker], you have to be very clear about how many hours that person is working, and you want to make sure you don’t get stuck in an overtime situation,” said Cali Williams Yost, founder and CEO of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit. This means that organizations need to develop a solid procedure that enables both employee and employer to track hours accurately.

On the other hand, if the “job sharers” are exempt, the company doesn’t need to worry about overtime, but it should be conscious of morale. “You could have two people who are working 35 hours each, and it’s not what they signed up for—‘I thought this was only going to be 25 hours and it’s really 35, and I’m not really getting paid [for this],’” Yost illustrated. “You want to make sure that you’re checking in and recalibrating as needed to make sure it’s within the parameters that everybody agreed to.”